The local police station is an essential thread in the fabric of every community. Its presence provides security to the residents and is a reminder that the neighbourhood is protected. Views are changing, however, on how local police forces want to interact with their communities, and how their stations can be designed to facilitate these changes.
In the past, police stations were often structured to appear imposing and forceful – impenetrable fortresses that prioritized the appearance of security over approachability, and which were often intimidating for community members to enter. The police force was meant to watch over the community, not to be a part of it.
The role of the local police force has evolved in recent years and its role within the community has expanded. While police stations still need to serve the essential function of maintaining the security of the neighbourhood, there has been a shift to a community policing model, with police force members actively engaging in the community and playing a more welcoming role. Police officers no longer want to be seen merely as a watchful force; they want to be viewed as partners within the community.
With this desire for a more community-focused approach to policing comes a need for police stations that serve a variety of needs, including facilitating strong community relationships. The shift from cold, intimidating strongholds to warm and welcoming community hubs that residents feel comfortable approaching, is key to allowing residents to view the police force as an active partner in the community. The design of the station sets the tone for the relationship between the police force and its residents.
Including design elements that foster this new approach to policing is vital in developing a new relationship with the community. Elements such as large windows at the main entrances can make it less intimidating for residents to enter the station. Open spaces, warm wood features and metal panelling creates a more welcoming, modern feel to the community areas of the building. Selecting materials appropriate for the purpose of each area of the building is critical, with specific materials being reserved for the secure sections of the station.
Designing appealing rooms that can be used for regular neighbourhood meetings can also increase engagement within the community, and encourage more positive associations and interactions with the station and the police force members. For communities that have had strained relationships with their police forces in the past, adding reasons for residents to enter the building on good terms can be a positive step in rebuilding these relationships.
The flow of the building does much to maintain the functionality of the new multi-purpose station. A number of groups will use the building and each group’s specific needs must be considered. In addition to police officers and the public, the building will be used by the police services board, the executive command teams, and other law officials, such as emergency task force units, canine, drugs and vice units, and homicide units. Other community-based units are often headquartered in the station as well.
For the law officials who use the building day-to-day, the flow of the building must allow them to get their jobs done efficiently and safely. They need to have easy access to their workspaces from the building entrances, open workspaces where they can communicate with their teams and security—both for their physical safety and the information stored within the building. Special security requirements around entries, exits and windows also need to be taken into consideration.
Evolving technology plays an increasing role in the model for the new police station. Enhanced IT and AV requirements will not only allow the law officials to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently but will also contribute to the building’s security and efficiency.
The desire for more attractive, inviting stations has to be balanced, however with public perception of public money being well-spent. Residents want to have an appealing place in which to meet with their fellow residents and interact with their community police force, but they don’t want to feel that excessive tax dollars have been spent in the design and construction of the building. Judicious use of materials and design elements is essential to maintaining this fine line.
A strong design for the community police station means more than just an attractive building for the neighbourhood. A well-designed station takes all of these considerations into account—the evolving role of the police force, the desire for increased community engagement, the many users and uses of the building, and of course the unique security requirements, while still balancing the need for efficient use of tax dollars. The station plays a vital role within the new community and can become the hub of a stronger community.